What is the symbolism in "Cat in the Rain" by Ernest Hemingway?

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In this short story, it seems as though just about everything is symbolic. Evidently, the story takes place shortly after World War I, an era in which many people feel quite disillusioned, when their ideas about the world had completely altered by the death and destruction they had witnessed. The...

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In this short story, it seems as though just about everything is symbolic. Evidently, the story takes place shortly after World War I, an era in which many people feel quite disillusioned, when their ideas about the world had completely altered by the death and destruction they had witnessed. The two Americans are the only Americans at their hotel, isolated by their foreignness as well as by the location of their room and the rain which keeps them indoors. Their windows overlook "the war monument," and the "American girl," the wife, wants to rescue a cat that's stuck out in the rain. The couple seems to be vacationing in some small Italian beach town, and so the rain symbolizes their disappointment. They are disappointed with the world as it is now, with themselves, with the weather that ruins their beach holiday. The woman is only conscious of what she lacks: long hair, a cat, her own table with silver and candles, new clothes, and springtime. She has very short hair, like a boy's she thinks, and this style became popular after the war, in the 1920s; her sudden desire for long hair seems, then, to symbolize her desire to return to the way life was before the war, to the innocence the world seemed to possess before the hell broke loose. Likewise, her desire for spring symbolizes her desire for a return to innocence, before she became disillusioned with the world. As the season associated with youth and rebirth, spring is often connected to innocence and the young. Her desire for the cat seems to symbolize her desire to make some small difference in the world, to be able to protect something that seems innocent still; or, we might think of the cat as a symbol of the woman herself, vulnerable and sad, and in need of greater care than she receives from her inattentive husband.

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In Ernest Hemingway's story "Cat in the Rain," the cat, of course, is symbolic as are the rain, the war monument, the hotel room, the woman's hair, and her desire for a table with her own silver and candles.

The cat is traditionally symbolic of that which is feminine. The fact that the little cat outside the hotel is wet and unable to shelter itself from the rain symbolizes the vulnerability of the "kitty," as the woman calls it. She sympathizes with this cat: "It isn't any fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain." The woman would like to rescue it and protect it, just as she desires a rescue from her emotional estrangement from her husband and her nearly claustrophobic sense of isolation in the hotel room. She tells her husband, George, who sits dispassionately on the bed reading,

I want to have a kitty sit on my lap and purr when I stroke it....And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror...

This woman wants to feel like a woman (have a little creature to love), she wants to look and feel more feminine (have longer hair), and she wants to have a more romantic relationship between herself and her husband (wants it to be spring). She also wants a home (where they eat at a table with silverware and candles). She wants happiness and contentment. She wishes to no longer look at the war monument outside their window.

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There are many symbols in this short, two page story. The first thing you probably noticed is that George and his wife do not have the greatest relationship. This is symbolized in the opening of the story by several things. First of all, it is raining. Hemingway uses rain in many of his stories to symbolize sadness. The fact that it is raining is mentioned six times in the opening paragraph. The couple is isolated from the people around them. This is reinforced by the fact that "they do not know anyone" and they are the only Americans in the hotel. Their room is also located on the second floor, away from the main floor of the hotel. When they get to their room, the wife, who is never given a name, sees the cat trying to get out of the rain in the square located below their room. She says she wants the kitty and George half-heartedly offers to get it for her. But, the wife, who is called the American girl as a symbol for her lack of maturity, actually tries to get the cat herself. Most critics think that the cat is actually a symbol for a child that the woman desperately wants. This is because the other things she wants are associated with femininity. She wants long hair and flowers and her own silverware. George completely ignores her complaints and tells her to "shut up and get something to read." Finally, the maid brings her a cat that seems to be a gift from the hotel keeper. This probably indicates that if the wife is ever going to have a child, it will have to be with another man. George, who is sitting on the bed reading during the entire story, is completely obvious to her needs and desires.

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